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My Very Own Footprints

An artificial limb—indigenous and customised—is enabling many to walk their walk

My Very Own Footprints
My Very Own Footprints
Step into Mobility India and you’re met by a school of multi-hued fish swimming gracefully in a huge aquarium. Their swift movement, turn and trail of colour offer a contrasting ideal to the laborious goings-on behind—people slowly learning to walk on artificial legs.

The story of this organisation is the story of Sathi, the indigenous and customised artificial leg built to suit the Indian physical, social and economic terrain. This prosthesis is perhaps the biggest innovation for the disabled after the Jaipur foot.

Sathi’s long trek began in 1994. Two motivated individuals Chapal Khasnobis and Albina Shankar set up Mobility India to help NGOs working in the area of locomotor disabilities with research and training inputs. It was a precursor to a small organisation called Add Mobility. From that modest phase, Mobility India has gamefully trudged on with limited funds from individual and institutional donors.

How exactly is Sathi different from other prostheses? Programme manager and prosthetist Soikat Ghosh Moulic explains: "The conventional artificial leg is very heavy, a person has to carry it rather than walk with it; the whole limb is one unit which cannot be modified to suit the needs of the user. But Sathi is fitted below the knee and can be adjusted according to individual requirements. It could be made to suit the walking styles and body pressures."

Sathi’s modular design enables the user to attach a Jaipur foot to it. "The Jaipur foot is a bare foot, an amputee can keep it on while entering a temple or mosque or even work in the fields. On the other hand, imported ones or the Kanpur alimco leg, for instance, come with a foot that needs a heel for support. Wearing shoes to all places is not possible in India, therefore Sathi and Jaipur foot are more popular," adds Moulic.

Moulic’s description of Sathi evokes the image of an athlete running with flexible steel limbs. Does that square with reality? Yes, partly. He says it’s a modern, modular endoskeletal system in which accurate alignment and adjustment is possible. Germans are said to be the pioneers in the field. But their models are prohibitively expensive—anything from Rs 30,000 to a few lakhs. Sathi—made of inexpensive but tough and durable material like high-density polyethylene water pipes—costs a mere Rs 3,000 and is in no way inferior.

Given the fact that 80 per cent of India’s disabled live in rural areas, this offers a brilliant cost-effective solution. "Most people who come to us for help can’t even afford the Rs 3,000, so we work out ways by which they could acquire Sathi," reveals Roopa Thirumalai, the fund-raising manager.

The model has developed over the last couple of years. There are at least two generations that precede the present model. One of the chief inspirations for it was a little disabled girl from Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh who had to visit a temple and cross a small stream each day to go to school. So when Mobility India met her through one of their 21 grassroots partners, the challenge was to develop water-proof prostheses that could take the pressure of the terrain, cost little, last long and would have no bacterial or fungal growth inside.

The model that’s now available is all this and much more. As a result, the International Society for Prosthetic and Orthotics (ISPO) has awarded Mobility India the Center for International Rehabilitation Yeongchi Wu International Education Award.

Mobility India has by now provided thousands with Sathi and has also been involved in training people from strife-torn areas of Albania, Mozambique, Yemen, Ethiopia and Angola to make the leg. Contact Mobility India at: PB No. 7812, 1st & 1st A Cross, J.P. Nagar, 2nd Phase, Bangalore—560078. Tel: 080-26492222. E-mail: e-mail@mobility-india.org.

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